Walgreens will not distribute the abortion pill mifepristone in nearly two dozen conservative states after Republican attorneys general threatened the largest US pharmacy companies with legal consequences for sending abortion pills by mail.
The decision, first reported by Politico, came weeks after the attorneys general sent a letter to Walgreens and CVS arguing that sending abortion pills by mail would violate federal law and abortion laws in those states. A spokesperson for Walgreens said the move was in response to that letter.
Walgreens had previously announced plans to become a certified pharmacy to dispense the pill in jurisdictions where it was legal to do so after the US Food and Drug Administration opted to allow retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone pills, including by mail.
But on Thursday the company confirmed to Politico that it would not dispense abortion pills by mail or within their stores in 20 states, including some states where abortion and medication abortion are legal.
“There is currently complexity around this issue in Kansas and elsewhere,” Fraser Engerman, Walgreens’ senior director of external relations, told the outlet.
Top Democrats were critical of the move. Adam Schiff described Walgreens as caving. “So much for putting a priority on the health of their customers,” he said on Twitter.
Senator Amy Schumer said, “This is exactly why we need to codify the protections of Roe v Wade and guarantee the right to access care.”
Abortion pills are a critical part of reproductive care nationwide. Of all US abortions, more than half are now with pills rather than with a procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. But medication abortion has drawn increasing attention since the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade last June.
The FDA has limited dispensing of mifepristone to a subset of specialty offices and clinics due to safety concerns for more than 20 years. The agency has repeatedly eased restrictions and expanded access, increasing demand even as state laws make the pills harder to get for many women.
But the announcement from Walgreens suggests that mifepristone access may not expand as broadly as federal regulators intended in January. Typically, the FDA’s authority to regulate prescription drug access has gone unchallenged. But more than a dozen states now have laws restricting abortion broadly – and the pills specifically – following last year’s supreme court decision overturning the federal right to abortion.
Attorneys general from conservative states have also argued that shipments of mifepristone violate a 19th century law that prohibited sending items used in abortion through the mail.
An anti-abortion group filed a federal lawsuit in Texas in November seeking to revoke mifepristone’s approval, claiming the FDA approved the drug 23 years ago without adequate evidence of safety.
A federal judge could rule soon. If he sides with abortion opponents, mifepristone could potentially be removed from the US market. Legal experts foresee years of court battles over access to the pills.
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